Media Circus Skirts the Issue on Rapinoe Protest

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Megan Rapinoe took a knee for the third time in four games on Sunday night. This time it wasn’t in an NWSL game in her Seattle Reign FC jersey, but an international friendly in her national team colors. In the days leading up to the match, many had offered speculation on whether or not Rapinoe would choose to take a knee during the friendly against Thailand, and she was asked about her process on her protest.

“It seems like I’m thinking 400 hours a day, that’s kind of how it feels,” Rapinoe said. “I will continue to talk to the people in my life that I trust, and take all sides into account. Ultimately, it will be up to me and what I feel convicted about, what’s in my bones and what I feel like is right.”

On days leading up to the match some wondered if she would, or if she wouldn’t continue. Others whether or not her method was appropriate. Whether or not her actions would take away from the retirement of longtime national team veteran Heather O’Reilly. Even whether or not taking a knee was the most effective way for her message to be conveyed. 

COVERAGE

Thursday evening, we got our answer:  she did it. So, in a mainstream sports media that usually ignores women’s athletics, this became an instant highlight. It brought several things to the forefront of the news cycle–not just the national team, but the women’s pro league, the NWSL, as well. 

Rapinoe’s actions spawned constant dialogue from ESPN commentator and former national team icon Julie Foudy during coverage of the match against Thailand on Thursday:

“Wherever you fall on the spectrum of love it or hate it with an anthem protest, I hope there is one thing we all can agree on. And that is that honoring freedom comes in many forms, and one of the beautiful rights we’ve been given in this country is freedom of expression and we all have that right even during the national anthem, even in a USA jersey. I know it wasn’t easy”

Foudy was repeatedly asked about it before and even during the game.

“I am torn by it, I think it’s one of the greatest aspects of our country, that we have the freedom to do just that. That is what makes this country so beautiful. I couldn’t have done it [kneel] as a US player standing on that line, I know that.”

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Soccer Federation noted that it held its players to certain standards regarding the anthem, and that they didn’t want attention taken away from national team legend Heather O’Reilly’s retirement game. Head Coach Jill Ellis echoed similar statements in interviews.  And the Federation had a statement prepared to release immediately after the end of the Thailand match–the same retirement game they didn’t want to take focus away from O’Reilly.

Despite their apparent concern, the statement was released live on ESPN for Foudy to give closing statements on, leaving O’Reilly to give her farewell speech in the background, as if live viewers were uninterested in hearing it:

“As part of the privilege of living in this country, don’t you also have the right to do just [protest] that? [..] Not to say you have to agree with it, but isn’t that what this country is about? What does that mean, ‘expectations?’ does that mean there will be repercussions?”

On Sunday, hours before the friendly against the Netherlands, Rapinoe was listed as an active player on the national team roster. The decision to have Rapinoe dress appeared to many as proof that the USSF will would allow Rapinoe to go unpunished for exercising her right to protest. Even though Rapinoe’s right to refuse to participate in the national anthem is constitutionally protected, the USSF’s statement implies that they could take action against her if they decided to do so.

Furthermore, this is women’s soccer we’re discussing. We have seen enough examples of what happens to players who speak out against their coaches. When they speak out about their federations. When they bring unwanted attention to the team.

It usually results in some kind of punishment, banishment, or unemployment.

Rapinoe knelt during the anthem in both friendlies. She came in as a second-half sub in both, to a crowds that responded with both boos and cheers.  More boos in Georgia than Ohio, but still present at both. The Fox Sports 1 commentary during Sunday night’s match didn’t help the narrative either. Not once in the commentary was the actual message discussed. Not one of the specific issues mentioned by Rapinoe was discussed by the media. Not once were the struggles that black citizens of this country face talked about. The word RACE itself was rarely mentioned if at all.

In the end, the US won the match 3-1 over Netherlands. 

And while U.S. Soccer has been a constant in our news feeds since the women’s national team was eliminated from the Rio Olympics, this is not the type of coverage–or the fan tour–they were hoping it would be. Just last night co-captain Carli Lloyd was asked if the protest has been a distraction for the team. Though she answered yes, Lloyd emphasized that they are a team used to distractions and would overcome these current ones as well.

THERE’S TOO MANY ISSUES

We Americans love our sports. We also love to express our patriotism through those sports. Race relations and race issues in this country have been so intense of late that much of what Rapinoe has tried to get discussed has been drowned out by the reactions of others to her protest. So far, there has been far more discussion about her form and method than her actual reasons.

For people who are struggling with recognizing what race issues actually are, here is a very short list that only mentions some, not all, of the issues at play:

  • General Race Issues:  racism, discrimination, prejudice, etc., against people of color in the United States
  • Visible representation:  lack of diverse colleges/universities, government, or work place as well as lack of representation in media, movies, books, tv, or other products of pop culture
  • Civic Oppression:  deeply segregated cities, gentrification, police brutality, black on black crime, gun violence, limited access to health care, groceries, jobs

When Kaepernick was asked for something specific about his protest, he mentioned police brutality.  He has also stated his protest includes, but is NOT limited to only that. It’s to highlight the general struggles and oppression of black citizens in this country. 

Rapinoe has been asked to elaborate on her stance with taking a knee along with Kaepernick and the other athletes who have joined him. Here is a short list of the things she has mentioned:

  • Solidarity with Kaepernick’s protest
  • Finding common ground to discuss race issues
  • Trying to be a voice in creating open dialogue that rarely has high profile white athletes speaking out
  • Struggle of gay Americans
  • Wage gap struggle for white women vs women of color
  • And far more

NOT ENOUGH REASONS TO IGNORE

It’s 2016 and there is still a sector of Americans who are uncomfortable with discussing race issues. The reality is this, there are absolutely too many race issues to take on in such a general protest, and that fact alone should make you concerned as an American citizen.

It should make you so sad that you want to do something about it, to create change in whatever way you can find yourself capable of.

Instead some fans and citizens are upset at a form of protest interrupting their sports event.

Rapinoe has a huge opportunity and huge platform. I hope that U.S. Soccer doesn’t try and take that away from her. I am hoping she uses it to be active in more than just discussions but literal actions. Whether that includes more activism or charitable work, eventually this does need to move beyond the pitch, beyond just conversations and creating awareness.

People are aware there are race issues. Some just choose to ignore them.

That’s why it’s important to use a platform you’ve been given but also to step off the soap box and take actual action.

This is a country that has given its citizens certain freedoms, liberties, and opportunities. It has been built on the backs of slaves, on the shoulders of immigrants and it is still seen as a land of opportunity for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

But how do we make sure the poor, the tired, and those huddled masses can truly prosper in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It can start with taking a stand, in taking a knee.

It can lead to conversations, to action, and hopefully, to change.

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